Spencer Bates
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Spencer Bates

Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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"Spencer Bates' Goodnight Rosebud"

Spencer Bates spends his evenings playing DC piano bars, satiating the desires of drunken patrons who want to hear—and sing along to—"Tiny Dancer" and "The Piano Man" as many times as the night allows. Turns out that the young, self-taught piano player with dramatic flair not unlike Billy Joel's or Elton John's also writes original material, and serves it up just as boldly on a platter of supercharged theatrics.

Listening to Goodnight Rosebud is like watching a musical, mostly because each song seems so epic. Tracks like "Outside Looking Out" and "The Time Must Come" are determined social commentary, while other tunes are crack-the-chest-open ballads. Fortunately, Bates is also quick to throw in funny lines about the PTA and monkeys in the frozen dinner aisles. And somehow it all works.

Though it's difficult not to compare Bates to FM piano heavyweights like Joel and John, that's less because he plays piano and more because he has an ear for compositions that sound essential and universal. You may not know the words well enough to sing along, but you feel compelled to try anyway. (Erika Fredrickson) - Missoula Independent

"Spencer Bates' Goodnight Rosebud"

This Washington D.C. based singer/songwriter can be seen on a regular basis performing at Mr. Smith's in Georgetown and Howl at the Moon in Baltimore. This modern day piano man puts on a show using only his voice and piano. On his album "Goodnight Rosebud" Spencer Bates uses other instruments and background vocals; but they in no way overshadow or take away from Spencer's talents as a singer or piano player.

"Goodnight Rosebud" contains 11 songs with catchy tunes, sometimes quarky lyrics, and beautiful piano solos. Spencer's Sir Elton like voice lended itself well to high school theatre; which led to film study in college. But Spencer soon discovered other talents and spent every available minute at a piano. This self-taught musician was an excellent student and the music on "Goodnight Rosebud" is proof The film world's loss is music's gain.

Fans of Billy Joel and Sir Elton John; as well as, fans of the piano will enjoy "Goodnight Rosebud" by Spencer Bates. - Rocknworld.com

"Chevy Chase Musician Brings Tunes to Downtown Bethesda"

Chevy Chase native Spencer Bates went to college to be a film major, but he returned to the area a musician.

Bates said he first started singing as a student at Westland Middle School. He then got involved in the musical theater program at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda.

‘‘At Prep, I sort of got a reputation within the class of being a good singer,” he said. ‘‘It sort of became part of my identity.”

After graduating from Georgetown Prep, Bates attended Northwestern University where he intended to study film, but while there, he began teaching himself how to play piano.

‘‘I started teaching myself piano and started accompanying myself with my own singing,” he said.

Now, at age 25, he is an entirely self-taught singer-songwriter and pianist.

With shows six to eight times a week, Bates performs on a regular basis at venues around the Washington, D.C., area. This month, he returns to the site of some of his first local performances, Haagen Dazs at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Elm Street in downtown Bethesda.

In some ways, Bates said, he enjoys performing at the shop more than the piano bars he plays at most evenings of the week, where he has to play old standards rather than his original songs.

‘‘It does have a stage area set up that looks professional” like the other venues, he said, ‘‘but I can play more of my own music.”

Bates plans to play there every other Sunday through October, weather permitting.

For more information, visit www.spencerbates.com. - Bethesda Gazette

"Spencer Bates' Goodnight Rosebud"

This sounds a lot like Elton John during his Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy period , especially on tracks like Geometries, The Time Must Come and Waves. I mean, Bates sounds so much like Elton that at times I would forget that I wasnt listening to an old Elton John album. Although, he does break out of the mold on Whats So Bad, an upbeat ditty with a fifties feel. Spencer makes his living as a piano man in a piano bar which is how Billy Joel as well as Elton John started out so hes already in pretty good company. - Ear Candy Magazine

"Spencer Bates' Goodnight Rosebud"

Spencer Bates is a young, talented individual. His lyrics are sweetly poetic and thought provoking. His musical style takes after that of the famous Billy Joels fun and light gaiety. Even you kids will enjoy listening and dancing to _Goodnight Rosebud_. Let the fun, whimsical talent of Spencer Bates give you a mental vacation. (AW) - The Phantom Tollbooth

"Spencer Bates' Goodnight Rosebud"

Singer/songwriter Spencer Bates recalls past pop exploits by Ben Folds with his piano pop mastery well in hand. Clever melodies that are jutted out with insightful and fun lyrics and entertaining pop hooks make up the majority of the album. Great vocal harmonies dominate some of the songs and give it a sophisticated pop attitude that is uncommon in some many mainstream alternative pop artists these days. Youll find yourself tapping your toe within minutes. Outside Looking Out has Queen vocal harmonies and a giant rock opera hook that no doubt will translate extraordinarily well in a live setting. Good stuff.

- J-Sin (Link to this music review) - Smother.net

"Local Music Growth"

In conversation, Spencer Bates gives the impression of a fairly introspective person, seriously focused on his art and career and their mutual progression. As a pro-active, self-taught pianist, it was precisely this intensity that was needed to get the local musician's first two albums, Everybody Has a Song and Back to School, off the ground. However, with more experience under his belt, Bates' recently released third album, Goodnight Rosebud, is a much more relaxed, mature showcase of the singer/songwriter's talents.

Upon first listen, Goodnight Rosebud seems a vast departure from Song and Back to School. The intensity of the first album now finds a better home behind the scenes, in the actual production of the album. "About 15 different musicians are featured on [this] album," explains Bates. "Having so many creative interpretations on the same work creates a more interesting overall sound for the album "and a more engaging experience for the listener.

And where does this energy come from? Bates concedes that it is reasonable to think his regular gigs at Mr. Smith's are responsible. Ultimately, however, the vibrancy Bates has added comes not from a desire to please the crowd, as is the goal of a late- night piano man. Rather, it serves to support the serious tone that Bates has maintained throughout his career. "In the future," muses Bates, "I may move even more in that upbeat direction, [because] I find that strong upbeat material tends to make the balladry even more compelling."

The new energy infused into Goodnight Rosebud, while making the album more accessible, does not go so far as to eradicate the melancholy tone characteristic of Bates' work. However, Bates' new album refreshingly contains the subtlety that was absent in his previous work. "The lyrics on Goodnight Rosebud are possibly more melancholy," explains Bates. "Even the two upbeat songs come from a melancholy place, at least in terms of my intention."

The subtleness of Goodnight Rosebud is only one example of Bates' growth as a musician. A newfound confidence in himself and his abilities affords Bates the gift of ambiguity. In previous work it seemed there was a fear of being misunderstood that compelled explicit and direct lyrics, and a nervousness that could be heard in the tone and delivery of said lyrics. Goodnight Rosebud, however, features lyrics that do not assault the listener with their message; rather Bates' more mature, developed approach to his craft leaves "the songs as open to interpretation as possible without making them obtuse and impossible to relate to." Ultimately Goodnight Rosebud is not as divergent as initially suspected; rather it simply showcases a new, more mature method of expression and an evident technical confidence and improvement. Bates' voice is bolder and steadier and maintains interest and pace from verse to chorus. While Bates' piano remains the centerpiece of each song, the additional instruments create a more complex, intricate sound worthy of repeated plays. On its own merits, Goodnight Rosebud is a worthwhile album. As the maturation of Everybody Has a Song and Back to School, it is captivating and thrilling.

Although the crowd pleasers he dutifully bangs out with gusto three nights a week at Mr. Smith's may be more the scene of the average listener, Bates' original work is absolutely worth a listen. He is a performer with promise whose work steadily improves and continues to impress. Hopefully the confidence and change seen on Goodnight Rosebud is an indication of what to expect on future albums.
- The Georgetown Independent

"So Sing Us A Song, Your the Piano Man"

Mr. Smith's of Georgetown calls itself "the friendliest saloon in town." While that's questionable, the bar does have one thing going for it: a young piano player by the name of Spencer Bates.

Spend an evening in Bates' company and you can expect to hear an array of tunes from old favorites like Elton John's Tiny Dancer and John Denver's Country Road to contemporary pop tracks — a fabulous rendition of The Killers' Mr. Brightside goes down well and Britney will invariably get a drunken request or too as the night draws to a close.

That's not to say Bates is just there to do customers' bidding: He also has creative talent to match his performances and a couple of his own albums already under his belt. His third opus Goodnight Rosebud is a self-conscious step up from his previous work and an assertive move toward his maturity as a musician. Catch him on M Street while you can; the piano man is on his way.

Unmistakably a very intelligent individual, Spencer Bates is one who takes an unusually analytical approach towards his art, able to be pragmatic as well as passionate about it and describing his musical career as "a building process." He's a determined but not overtly domineering individual, speaking reflectively about past creations, with a dogmatic approach toward his current musical outlook and comfortable about his vision for the future. He seems to possess a steadfast belief in his own that only comes with experience but still does not take himself too seriously. No prima donna, the dry sense of humor that leads him to initially describe his music as stemming from "a polka/death-metal approach," and that goes down so well in Mr. Smith's — introducing obscene lyrics into the most innocent songs — should help him maintain a sense of balance wherever this new album takes him.

It's evident that Bates has come a long way in his songwriting since debut Everybody Has A Song (2002). Originally a film studies major at Northwestern University, he switched to music when he realized it would give him more room to create and to perform.

"It's the direct interaction with an audience, it's a more immediate pay-off," he said of his decision to pursue a musical career.

Distinctly "pop," Bates' first record is evidently that of a talented musician, if an immature one. Writing at a time when tacky ballads were the order of the day, Bates chose to follow the well-worn path.

"I felt forced to balance marketability with my own taste," he said. "I was led to believe that's what you had to do to get by in music."

As a result, Everybody consists predominantly of linear-narrative love songs, deluges of romance that would perhaps be better coming from a Christina, a Britney or a Kelly than one such as Spencer, a far more discerning artist with a lot more to offer.

After Everybody came The Back To School EP in 2003, a simultaneously self-conscious and self-confident record that marked a progression, if not a complete evolution for his music. Although far happier with this record, he said he still considers it to be a transitional work, more master than masterpiece.

Ballads, while not banished entirely, amount to a mere 2 of 5 tracks, compared to 12 of 13 on Everybody.

The production values on Back To School are also markedly improved and took him far closer to achieving a professional product.

And from Back To School emerged Goodnight Rosebud, an album far more professional in overall sound quality and far more organic in songwriting style. By doing away with the synthesizers and drum machine, bringing in a full band and stepping away from the production, he was able to concentrate on the songs themselves and his own performances on the tracks.

He displays his influences — from Billy Joel and Ben Folds to musical theatre — and his own intellectual depth with a self-assurance not seen on the first two discs because, he said, "At this point I trust my own taste."

So, with Goodnight Rosebud, does he finally think he's got it right? Bates seems genuinely proud of the final product, although more because he feels it is a true reflection of his own musical values and abilities than because he expects it to propel him towards stardom.

When asked where he hopes this album will take him, Bates' answer is firm but not outrageous.

"Mr. Smith's is great but it's an active not a captive audience. They come to drink, not listen to the music," he said. "I want to be performing my own material in an intimate venue, one that enhances the performance rather than detracts from it, for people that are there to hear it."

Music journalists have an irritating tendency to glibly refer to musicians' third albums as "awkward." The third album is supposedly where bands will either sink without a trace or do just enough to keep themselves afloat.

Goodnight Rosebud is nonetheless a confident work that demonstrates the creative process as a whole, and songwriting in particular, as a learning curve and one - The Georgetown Hoya


Goodnight Rosebud, 2006 (college radio play)
The Back to School EP, DEMO 2004 (college radio play)
Everybody Has a Song, DEMO 2002

Song samples are available at: www.spencerbates.com and www.myspace.com/spencerbates

Songs can be purchased through Itunes and CDBaby



It can be a difficult road to fame and fortune. Though he would probably be quick to divert attention away from this truth with characteristic self-deprecation, Spencer Bates surely knows this. Spencer is a solo artist in the most literal sense. He is a singer-songwriter who regularly plays alone, relying upon only his voice and his piano. He also is entirely self-taught. Having said that, music and performance have never been far from his grasp. Spencer devoted much of his time as a teenager to musical theater, where directors were quick to take advantage of his surprising vocal range. During those early years his primary artistic focus was film, which he began studying formally upon entering college.

But the drive to perform loomed large. Inspired by a one-time performance at the end of high school, in which faculty and student musicians alike backed him on renditions of classic pop tunes, Spencer began spending every free hour at the piano, an instrument that he had previously never played. As it happened, he had a natural ability to learn the instrument that matched his innate vocal gift. Some might interpret Spencer's lack of formal training as a handicap. But, to the contrary, it's one of his greatest assets: his melodies are clear, direct, and indelible - refreshingly devoid of any overstudied pretense.

Spencer's first recordings of original music, the full-length Everybody has a Song and the Back to School EP, captured a performer and songwriter still finding his voice. Though saturated with his strong sense for melody, they featured songs that only hinted at his potential. Mostly, they contained fairly straightforward love songs. At this point, as Spencer's piano playing has evolved, so too has his approach to his art: "I prefer writing songs that are more interpretable."

Fortunately, this approach serves both Spencer and his listeners quite well. His new record, Goodnight Rosebud, is not only easily his best to date, but also a startlingly sophisticated step forward. The same knack for melody remains. However, this time Spencer has produced lyrics and arrangements that more than match his inherently catchy songs; they enhance them.

Gone are the straightforward tunes of puppy love and heartbreak - and in their place lie songs that tackle broader and in some cases - as in the triumphant "The Time Must Come" - more political issues. But Spencer chooses not to use his voice for any soapbox preaching. "I don't need to be overtly political. It wouldn't be constructive to alienate anyone." Nevertheless, the song lends itself to political interpretations; crucially, though, in keeping with the album's commitment to subtlety, it never hammers anything down your throat.

Rather, Spencer seems interested in questioning. Tellingly, the album opens with the line "Could it be I was mistaken?" In a way this calls back to his earlier work, where self-doubt and heartache - the domain of teenagers - reigned supreme. But the song, "Back of My Mind," also suggests maturity and reflection, while acknowledging that the trials of early adulthood are every bit as complicated and confusing as those of late adolescence. Musically, the song boasts a far fuller sound than any previous recordings, as strings and ringing guitar nicely complement Spencer's piano. The extent of this album's musical advances doesn't become fully apparent, however, until the third song, "Outside Looking Out."

After a subdued solo piano intro for the second track, "Outside Looking Out" quickly announces itself: over some of the album's most rhythmic piano playing, a low, guttural horn line sweeps in with all the fanfare of a '70s cop-show theme. In a way it harkens back to the sloppy, gritty days of early rock 'n' roll but, like all of Spencer's work, it remains defiantly pop (complete with layered background harmonies). It's the sort of arrangement that, sadly, modern pop music rarely uses. The horns continue throughout the song, crisply punctuating some of the album's most clever lyrics, which mock the frivolity of consumerist, mainstream culture.

One could easily see the song, with its references to "corporate sponsorship" and "status symbols," as a partial reaction to the music industry and Spencer as a man railing against it. But, for Spencer, the music industry brings its own benefits: specifically, top-notch musicians. "I approached Goodnight Rosebud as a collaborative effort. I wanted to feel part of a team. I wanted other people's stamp on it, so I encouraged other musicians' interpretations. Fortunately, I found myself surrounded by creative people."

To illustrate this, Spencer points to the album's seventh track, "Waves," which focuses primarily on a lilting piano melody and voice, but also features contemplative, understated mandolin. When someone came in to contribute mandolin to the song, Spencer had a specific sound in mind, but the player, Skinny McCallister, brought something entirely unexpected: "He played t